The 6 Steps to Hosting a Killer Dinner Party
And looking good while doing it.
If there’s an innate skill for dinner party hosting, Julia Khan Anselmo has it. The curator of Feisty Feast is known for her long table series that “unites and empowers women in the feminine spirit.” Each dinner features a speaker who shares her story and inspires conversation. And not just any speaker. Her SF Feast featured Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell (more on that later). Plus she’s known for creating serious mood with artisanal place settings, music, candles, and elaborate menus inspired by her Trinidadian and Portuguese roots. After attending one of these unforgettable dinner experiences, we had to ask Julia for some tips on how she creates those killer dinner party vibes.
On the origins of Feisty Feast:
“I started Feisty Feast in 2013 with the goal of bringing women together through food and meaningful conversation. After leaving an art consultancy job, I took some time off to think about what was important to me. I realized that I love meeting new people and cooking and sharing food. So I started Feisty Feast by combining my passions.”
On what it means to empower women in the feminine spirit:
“Empowering women in the feminine spirit is to lift one another up and find common ground. I feel that we don’t make enough time to slow down and listen to the stories of others. What better way to practice being present than in a beautiful atmosphere.”
On one of her most memorable speakers:
“After Burning Man 2015, I found myself on a sailboat with the festival organizers, including the incredible Marian Goodell. I was standing on the bow with her and another younger woman, who was telling us about how she felt that her early 20s were the ‘prime’ of her life. While I was thinking that I was in my ‘prime’ at 30, Marian, then in a newfound relationship, said, ‘No, ladies, I’m at the prime of my life entering my 50s.’ I knew right then that I had to host a dinner with Marian focusing on the ‘prime’ of a woman’s life.”
On her best tips for hosting dinner parties:
1. Set the table.
“I’m a bit of a formalist when it comes to the table. My mother always had fresh flowers, candles and napkins, wineglasses, water glasses, and gorgeous plates. Recently, I bought the most beautiful set of organic cotton and block-print napkins from Maiwa, one of my all-time favorite shops. I’ve also collected some antique dishes that I love to use, and of course, “west coast wineglasses,” aka mason jars, are usually on my table!”
2. Serve food family-style.
“I keep returning to family-style food, and I like to cook things that are a bit off the beaten track to show people something that they wouldn’t normally try. My menus have ranged from Trinidad-inspired, with delicious curried chickpeas and puffed roti, to Middle Eastern menus with saffron and spiced butter pastas and rosewater pistachio merengues, to Moroccan tagines. Serving family style means no one has to get up or ask for more, plus, it’s just more fun!”
3. Music, candles, incense. Check.
“Music is probably the first thing I set my mind to before guests come over. Think African jazz, Brazilian samba, Indian ragas, and Colombian cumbia. You can find some of my mixes on my jungle labyrinth of a Spotify account. And too many candles is always a good idea. I like the IKEA ones that burn for 12 hours, and I also like a beautiful Mexican copal incense.”
4. Think wabi-sabi.
“Lately, I’ve been very inspired by the concept of wabi-sabi, which is finding beauty in the imperfect. Feisty Feast No.12 on Body Image, hosted at Janaki Larsen’s Atelier St. George in Vancouver, was a great example of wabi-sabi. As we were setting the table, Janaki said to me that each plate she chose for the dinner is unique and imperfect, a poetic alignment with the dinner theme which explored women’s relationships with their bodies.”
5. Put guests to work.
“I try to separate guests that come to dinner together to get them out of their shells a bit. And I give little jobs to each of them if they arrive early, like helping me finish set the table, light candles, shuck an oyster, or open wine. Most of my guests are excellent cooks themselves and like to help out in the kitchen.”
6. Prep + breathe.
“Preparation means having all of the food ready well in advance. I pack an outfit to change into after all of the prep work is done. Sometimes it’s jeans and a favorite apron and boots, but I usually end up barefoot at some point in the evening. Before guests arrive I try to steal a few moments to myself in a quiet corner and just meditate on how I want the evening to flow. But I get so excited, it’s hard for me to be still!”